Commentary Magazine


Topic: priest

Is There Worse to Come?

The breaking news is that tonight (Saturday night), Barack Obama will announce he has resigned his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago — the former pulpit of Jeremiah Wright from which the Catholic priest Michael Pfleger made his incendiary remarks about Hillary Clinton. This is of course the same church that Obama said contained within it every aspect of the black community (which raises the question of whether he is, by the same logic, resigning from the black community).  There’s something about this decision that raises more questions than it answers. Is Obama doing this now because he is on the verge of securing the nomination and no longer needs to worry so much about disappointing his base? Or is he worried there is more to come on YouTube from the Trinity United stage and he wants to have dissociated himself from it all beforehand? Is he going to have to give another major speech on race to revise and amend his previous speech on race?

The breaking news is that tonight (Saturday night), Barack Obama will announce he has resigned his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago — the former pulpit of Jeremiah Wright from which the Catholic priest Michael Pfleger made his incendiary remarks about Hillary Clinton. This is of course the same church that Obama said contained within it every aspect of the black community (which raises the question of whether he is, by the same logic, resigning from the black community).  There’s something about this decision that raises more questions than it answers. Is Obama doing this now because he is on the verge of securing the nomination and no longer needs to worry so much about disappointing his base? Or is he worried there is more to come on YouTube from the Trinity United stage and he wants to have dissociated himself from it all beforehand? Is he going to have to give another major speech on race to revise and amend his previous speech on race?

Read Less

Is Dana Priest a Common Criminal?

Dana Priest is a national-security correspondent for the Washington Post. Her professional success depends in large part on her ability to ferret out secrets from the U.S. intelligence and defense bureaucracy and from knowledgeable officials on Capitol Hill.

Sources within government, acting in violation of the laws governing secrecy, regularly provide her with classified information in exchange for her promise not to disclose their identity, even if this means she must defy a court order and possibly go to jail. Last year, Priest won a major journalism award for a November 2005 article bringing to light the highly classified fact that the CIA had established detention facilities for terrorists in foreign countries.

Because reporters have lately been going to jail with some frequency—the imprisonment of Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame leak investigation is the most famous recent instance, but there have been others—pressure has been building for federal “shield-law” legislation that would exempt reporters from being compelled by courts to disclose their sources.

Read More

Dana Priest is a national-security correspondent for the Washington Post. Her professional success depends in large part on her ability to ferret out secrets from the U.S. intelligence and defense bureaucracy and from knowledgeable officials on Capitol Hill.

Sources within government, acting in violation of the laws governing secrecy, regularly provide her with classified information in exchange for her promise not to disclose their identity, even if this means she must defy a court order and possibly go to jail. Last year, Priest won a major journalism award for a November 2005 article bringing to light the highly classified fact that the CIA had established detention facilities for terrorists in foreign countries.

Because reporters have lately been going to jail with some frequency—the imprisonment of Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame leak investigation is the most famous recent instance, but there have been others—pressure has been building for federal “shield-law” legislation that would exempt reporters from being compelled by courts to disclose their sources.

The idea is that because journalists like Priest now lack such protection, sources hesitate to talk and the public is deprived of valuable news. With a Democratic majority now running the show in Congress, and a number of leading Republicans supporting such a bill, the prospects for the passage of a “reporter’s privilege” are better now than they have been at any time in recent memory.

Earlier this year, I put forward my own analysis of the reporter’s privilege in an article entitled Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law. In June 2006, I also testified about this and related issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also testifying at the same hearing was Matthew W. Friedrich, the Principal Deputy Attorney General. The assembled Senators gave him a number of written questions about his department’s view of the shield-law bill then before Congress.

The Justice Department’s reply to these questions took a long time coming. Only now, a year later, has it been released to the public by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among its many points, it takes a dramatic position regarding what is now routinely accepted journalistic behavior.

At issue is a loophole in the proposed bill. In cases in which journalists are themselves eyewitnesses to a crime, the shield would not apply. Thus, if Dana Priest found herself in a bank that was being robbed, she, like all other witnesses, would have an obligation to testify before a grand jury about what she heard and saw. She could not, under the proposed shield law, claim exemption, even if she subsequently wrote a news article about the holdup.

But this eyewitness exception itself has an exception in the proposed legislation. If the crime in question involved the unauthorized disclosure of classified government information to a journalist, than the eyewitness exception would not apply, and the journalist’s shield would remain in force.

To this, the Justice Department objects out such a provision “would permit [a] journalist to participate intentionally in violation of the criminal laws of the United States—indeed, as the recipient of the disclosure, to cause the crime to occur—with impunity.” This would put the journalist-source privilege on a completely different plane from other, long-recognized privileges, like the attorney-client privilege, which “does not apply where the attorney participates in crime.”

Surprisingly the position taken by the Justice Department has gone unnoticed by the media—which are not yet up in arms over it. True, the Justice Department has never once brought charges against a journalist for eliciting secrets from government officials (although, as in the ongoing AIPAC case, it has brought them against lobbyists for such conduct). In deference to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, the department’s strong and longstanding preference, codified in its own voluntarily adopted internal rules, has been to prosecute leakers rather than journalists.

But in this passage the Justice Department has taken a further step. It is stating unequivocally that when journalists like Dana Priest ferret out national-security secrets, even if they do not publish them, they are actively participating in a crime.

Read Less

Life in a Glass House

The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).
Read More

The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).

After Long was murdered in 1935, Johnson became a staunch ally of Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979), a Michigan priest who starred in weekly radio broadcasts featuring anti-Semitic praise of Hitler and Mussolini. Johnson helped with the printing of Social Justice, Coughlin’s publication, and organized a vast Chicago rally for the demagogue, even designing a now-iconic podium for Coughlin, modeled on the one that Hitler used at Potsdam.

In 1938, Johnson was invited by the German government to attend a special indoctrination course in Berlin, to learn about Nazi politics and hear Hitler speak at a giant Nuremberg rally. Johnson wrote a series of fascist articles for various American publications; he reviewed Hitler’s Mein Kampf favorably, pooh-poohing the notion that Hitler or his book were anti-Semitic. He went so far as to compare Hitler to Plato: “Reduced to plain terms, Hitler’s ‘racism’ is a perfectly simple though far-reaching idea. It is the myth of ‘we, the best,’ which we find, more or less fully developed, in all vigorous cultures. Thus Plato constructing the ideal State in his Republic assumed that it would be Greek.”

In a series of further articles, Johnson “explicitly attacked the Jews, depicting them as malicious invaders, comparing them to a plague, and finally lying about their condition in 1939 Germany and Poland,” as Varnelis details. Only when the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence began to take an interest in Johnson as a possible Nazi spy, did he finally drop politics to devote himself fully to architecture. The Glass House represents the culmination of Johnson’s politically-rehabilitated persona. And yet the public continues to ignore the full details of Johnson’s Nazi years.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

Read More

• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

To be sure, Hassler is more a middlebrow than a modernist, and his (mostly) sympathetic chronicles of Minnesota life are written in a straightforward, accessible style. Judge him by the exalted standards of Proust and Joyce—or, for that matter, O’Connor—and he’ll come up short. Try thinking of him as a Midwestern John P. Marquand and you’ll get a better idea of what he’s about. “Of all the people I know,” Marquand observed, “only Americans, because of some sort of inferiority complex, keep attempting the impossible and trying to get away from their environment.” Jon Hassler has never made that mistake. His novels are set in the small-town world where he was born and in which he has spent the whole of his 74 years, and his characters are ordinary people who spend their days grappling, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with the ordinary problems of life, love, aging, and death.

One of the things that makes these characters so distinctive is that many (though not all) of them are churchgoers. Not coincidentally, Hassler is a Catholic novelist, and certain of his books are very decidedly the work of a Catholic novelist. Yet their temperate emotional climate has little in common with the claustrophobic creations of, say, Graham Greene or François Mauriac. In Hassler’s novels, no one, not even the priests, is obsessed with the problem of faith in the modern world, nor do his teachers, grocery-store owners, and family doctors take much of an interest in what Browning called “the dangerous edge of things.” They are simply trying to get along in a complicated world, and though they view that world through the prism of belief, most have learned that few answers are quite so easy as they look:

Rain’s only value, for Miss McGee, was that it reminded her how precious was good weather. She despised rain. But she knew that to the earth, rain was as necessary as sunshine. Could it be, she wondered, that the vice and barbarism abroad in the world served, like the rain, some purpose? Did the abominations in the Sunday paper mingle somehow with the goodness in the world and together, like the rain and sun feeding the ferns, did they nourish some kind of life she was unaware of?

The “Miss McGee” of this passage from Staggerford, Hassler’s first novel, is Agatha McGee, a schoolmarm of strongly conservative bent who turns up in several of his later books, most prominently in A Green Journey and Dear James. Like Barbara Pym and Elmore Leonard, Hassler likes to reuse his characters, and so there is something to be gained from reading his books in sequence, though North of Hope stands slightly apart from his ongoing chronicle of life in Staggerford and its environs, and can be read without reference to any of his other books. Reissued last year as part of the Loyola Classics series, North of Hope takes a hackneyed situation—an unhappily married woman falling in love with a priest—and contrives to turn it into something fresh and satisfying.

No matter which one you read first, Hassler’s books repay close reading, not least for their unpretentiously thoughtful observations about life. Here are two of my favorites, from North of Hope and The Love Hunter:

There ought to be a limit (she thought as she steered the bronze Chrysler through the cemetery gate) on the number of open graves you had to look down into in any given lifetime.

He had supposed that when you dissolved a joyless marriage, you opened yourself to the return of joy, but he discovered himself open instead to loneliness.

North of Hope is my favorite Hassler novel. If you’re allergic to priestly protagonists, start with the first two, Staggerford and Simon’s Night. Both are out of print, but used copies are easy to find online.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

Read More

• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

It would, I suppose, be all but impossible to write an unreadable book about Da Ponte. He was born a Jew, became a Roman Catholic priest, and married at 43, having hitherto conducted his private life along lines not unlike those of his old friend Giacomo Casanova, in evidence of which I offer these two deliciously characteristic sentences from his Memoirs:

A beautiful girl of sixteen (I should have preferred to love her only as a daughter, but . . . ) was living in the house with her mother, who took care of the family, and would come to my room at the sound of the bell. To tell the truth, I rang the bell quite often, especially at moments when I felt my inspiration flagging.

A famously charming fellow far more interested in writing poetry than performing his priestly duties, the Abbé Da Ponte was duly expelled from Venice and made his way to Vienna, where he somehow contrived to become the Emperor Joseph II’s house librettist. There he began his collaboration with Mozart, for whom he wrote what are now generally regarded as the first great opera libretti. He also continued his friendship with Casanova, who was, believe it or not, present at the first performance of Don Giovanni, a coincidence that is almost too good to be true.

Bolt writes very well about the Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration, especially the creation of Così, a worldly, startlingly modern comedy of disillusionment and acceptance whose emotional complexities are no more easily unraveled in 2007 than they were in 1790:

Mozart and Da Ponte created a work that would have critics arguing for centuries, berating it then rescuing it, damning it for its cynicism and triviality, lauding it for its complexity . . . Mozart’s music enriched Da Ponte’s libretto with shades and further ambiguities, softening crueler edges, adding lacquer-layers of meaning and affection, pointing moments of satire. As before, composer and poet delicately stitched the comic and the serious together, and made their mix even more complex by an interplay of real and faked emotions, histrionic bombast and moments of transporting beauty . . . Così fan tutte was Les Liaisons dangereuses with heart.

From Vienna Da Ponte made his way to London, then New York, where he became Columbia University’s first professor of Italian after having run a grocery store and a bookshop whose customers included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Presumably he was the only person to have known Longfellow, Mozart, and Casanova.) All these adventures and many others like them are skillfully recounted in The Librettist of Venice, and if Rodney Bolt occasionally fails to make them especially plausible-sounding . . . well, sometimes real life is like that.

Read Less

Mosques Are Not above the Law

Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

Read More

Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.

Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.

At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.

Such an incident can and does take place regularly at churches and temples in this or any other capital. In the case of a London synagogue, the drunk would not have been able to get past the door: synagogue security is tight, due to the threat of Islamist terrorists and anti-Semitic vandals of various stripes. But if the police had requested access from a rabbi, it would have been granted without question. The same would have applied at most other places of worship.

Not necessarily, however, at a mosque. The British police practically never set foot inside a mosque, for fear of giving offense to the Muslim community.

The exception that proves this rule was the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park. Within a few years of its erection in 1990, this mosque had become associated with radical Islam and became notorious for its one-eyed, hook-handed preacher Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is now in prison for terrorist crimes. In 2003, the Finsbury Park mosque was raided by hundreds of armed police, who arrested several men and found a terrorist arsenal. Those indoctrinated there by Abu Hamza have since been linked to many terrorist conspiracies around the world.

But the raid on Finsbury Park has never been repeated, despite plenty of evidence of illegal activities, such as the glorification of terrorism or incitement to hatred of Jews and “Crusaders,” in a number of other British mosques. Even when a fugitive from justice is believed to be hiding in a mosque or its outbuildings, the police decline to enter.

This wariness about mosques on the part of the British authorities is not only inimical to the rule of law, but also damaging to Muslim interests. Turning mosques into no-go areas fuels suspicions about what goes on inside. Mosques must indeed be treated with the same respect other places of worship are, but they are certainly not outside the jurisdiction of the secular law.

The reluctance of police to enter a mosque actually betrays a dangerous ignorance about Islam. Mosques are modeled not on the Temple in Jerusalem (as both synagogues and churches are), but on the courtyard in Medina where Mohammed preached. They are places not of ceremony or sacrifice. Unlike synagogues or churches, mosques do not have an ark or sanctuary containing sacred objects, such as the Torah scroll for Jews or the consecrated host for Catholics. Islam does not teach that the mosque is a forbidden place to non-Muslims, nor is there a Muslim tradition of giving sanctuary to fugitives in mosques. It is precisely the simplicity and informality of the mosque that has always appealed, to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The novelist E.M. Forster wrote a paean of praise to the mosque in his 1936 collection Abinger Harvest, and in his greatest novel, A Passage to India (1924), he sets the crucial opening scene in a mosque. The Muslim Dr. Aziz is sitting alone in the evening in his favorite mosque, when he notices the arrival of an elderly Englishwoman. Aziz is angry and shouts at her: “Madam, this is a mosque, you have no right here at all; you should have taken off your shoes; this is a holy place for Muslims.” The woman, Mrs. Moore, replies: “I have taken them off.” Aziz begs her pardon and apologizes. She asks whether, unshod, she is allowed to enter, and he says: “Of course, but so few ladies take the trouble, especially if thinking no one is there to see.” She replies: “That makes no difference. God is here.”

This is fiction, of course, and an Islamophile Englishman’s fiction, to boot. In most of the mosques in Britain today (let alone in the Middle East) even a Muslim woman would not gain entrance, let alone a Christian one. As I understand it, however, Forster is correct in his interpretation of Islamic doctrine, at least as Muhammad himself taught it. The mosque is in principle accessible to all, men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, who treat it with due respect.

That ought to include the police, too.

Read Less

Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Read More

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.